Part of the reason I look forward to spring in St. Louis are the influx of farmer’s markets. Sure, there are some noteworthy markets that remain open during the winter; but oftentimes they’re inside, or I find myself standing on an icy patch of concrete, looking at crates of frost-bitten potatoes. I start to miss the ambiance of the spring and summer markets, where even though it’s ninety-degrees (or sometimes hotter), the produce is fresh, vibrant and colorful, and I can linger outdoors afterwards eating some of what I purchased.
This past weekend, I visited the Tower Grove Park Farmer’s Market, one of the biggest and most popular farmer’s markets in St. Louis. I visited the market for the first time after my senior year of college, and had to restrain myself from purchasing something from every stand. I will never forget my first purchases, though: Strawberry Rhubarb Jam, a hot, savory crepe (they made it right in front of me), and homemade lemonade to cool down. I still remember the woman who sold me the jam, and how along with homemade preserves, she also sold bright yellow sunflowers. She owned a sunflower farm, and I had never met anyone who grew sunflowers for a living.
That’s part of the reason why I love the markets; every vendor has a story, and every product is unique. On Saturday, I tried to find the Strawberry-Rhubarb lady’s stand again; the jam I bought was just that good. When I didn’t find her, I bought some equally delicious Strawberry-Rhubarb preserves from another nice vendor, who offered me a bag for my strawberries (I was carting them around, eating them as I perused the other stands).
I knew I wasn’t going home right away, so I didn’t buy much produce. I did buy bread from Black Bear Bakery, though, a worker owned and operated bakery on Cherokee Street in downtown St. Louis. I hardly ever make it all the way downtown, so it was nice to be able to get a whole loaf of their organic multi-grain bread. It’s thick and hearty, with a soft center and crusty edges; perfect for making lunchtime sandwiches during the week. It’s also delicious toasted, with some butter and Strawberry-Rhubarb Preserves spread on top.
After I shopped, I explored the park more. I had visited the Farmer’s Market before, but I never actually walked through the gardens.
There were some beautiful fountains and ponds, and in one pond, I spotted a Blue Heron. I overhead one of the gardeners say that it was the first Blue Heron of the season. Herons like their space, though, so I had to secretly follow it around the pond in order to get a good picture.
I walked through the flower gardens, which were beautiful and in full-bloom.
I could have easily had lunch at the Farmer’s Market; in fact, I was almost tempted by one of the food trucks, “Holy Crepe.” There was a savory crepe on the menu with goat cheese, pears, and honey, but I was still kind of full from my last crepe venture.
So instead, I went to Sweet Art, a tiny family-owned bakery and café only a few blocks away from the park. I first discovered Sweet Art while I was still in France (ironically enough). I had bookmarked the bakery’s website on my computer, but it wasn’t until I was sitting in my second floor apartment in Orleans, France, sifting through random links, that I read about how the bakery started. As it turns out, the owner, Reine Bayoc, also lived in France for awhile, and went to college in St. Louis. She opened her own bakery/café after working some “life draining cubicle jobs”, and now shares the space with her husband, who is an artist. The interior is bright and airy, and you almost feel like you’re eating in someone’s kitchen.
I’m not a vegan, but most of Sweet Art’s menu is vegan-friendly. I love cheese and cream as much as the next person, so I think it’s a testimony to how good their food is that I don’t miss it when I go in for lunch. This past weekend, I tried a new sandwich called the Carrie (named after Reine’s grandmother), which is described on the menu as a Vegan BLT. The whole-wheat bread was warm and toasted, and in between the slices of bread were layers of thick, crispy pieces of Smart Bacon, field greens, juicy tomato slices, and vegan magic spread. I also added avocado to my sandwich, which I highly recommend doing if you order it.
I wasn’t sure what “vegan magic spread,” was, and when I asked the cashier, he said it was a special homemade condiment with a texture akin to mayonnaise. I took a risk, and wasn’t disappointed. I usually hate mayonnaise, and substitute Greek Yogurt in recipes that call for it. But on this sandwich, the faux mayonnaise was really was the “magic” that held everything else together.
I described the opening of the Farmer’s Markets to my friend as my “Christmas,” and then was reminded by my friend that I am, in fact, Jewish. However, the feeling that I get when I see all the stands lined up with fresh produce, honey, jam, eggs and bread can only be compared to that of a small child, waking up and finding all of his or her presents colorfully wrapped under the Christmas tree. I’m looking forward to my next trip, and luckily, instead of twelve months, I only have to wait six days…